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BenRiach is one of several distilleries that were built on Speyside during the midst of the whisky boom in the 1890’s. Records reveal that across Scotland 33 distilleries were completed,...

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BenRiach is one of several distilleries that were built on Speyside during the midst of the whisky boom in the 1890’s. Records reveal that across Scotland 33 distilleries were completed, with 21 distilleries located within Speyside alone. Unfortunately, with the Pattison crash arriving at the end of the century what seemed like a wise decision to invest in whisky soon became a poison chalice, with distilleries scaling down or ceasing production. Some were sold, as the owners could not afford to keep them as a going concern and it’s after effects were felt for many years thereafter.

For BenRiach its convenient location in the Heart of Speyside, its story begins in 1897 when John Duff founds the distillery. Yet with aforementioned crash in 1900, the distillery is forced to close its doors for an amazing stint of 65 years. For many distilleries faced with such a prolonged period of in-operation this would have resulted in the site being sold for other purposes and if another use was not found such as residential accommodation seen at Linlithgow or Glenlochy, then the distillery would have been demolished. This was the final fate of several distilleries following closures in 1983, but BenRiach still endured. The reason for this is the enduring production from its near neighbour Longmorn distillery, which utilised some of BenRiach’s buildings including its floor maltings. Such was its proximity that the distillery was originally called Longmorn number 2.

BenRiach was revived in 1965 on the wave of another whisky boom with new stills installed and the necessary production work completed by its new owner, Glenlivet Distillers Limited. Widespread modernisation was required internally to make BenRiach a viable concern, but its classic distillery period features were sympathetically treated and maintained. These can be appreciated via the select Connoisseur’s tour that the distillery offers by arrangement, as it isn’t open to the public and only offers limited tours by appointment currently.

By 1978, the distillery was taken over by Seagrams who set about making changes at the distillery including doubling the number of stills and closing the floor maltings that ironically had kept the distillery intact for so many years. The distillery was principally a supplier to blends such as the Queen Anne released by Chivas. By 2002 however the demand for whisky had declined and BenRiach was mothballed once again, but thankfully not for 65 years this time. In 2004 a consortium led by Billy Walker purchased the distillery and set about establishing its single malt presence. This was achieved via a variety of new vintages and the use of various cask types, with almost anything considered. The end result was new found appreciation for BenRiach and a successful company that allowed the acquisition of GlenDronach in 2008 and Glenglassaugh in 2013. Thankfully, periodically the floor maltings has opened now and again since, producing malt although its current future is unclear.

All three distilleries hit the headlines in 2016, when they were the subject of a £285 million bid from American spirit giant Brown Forman. Needless to say this offer was accepted and currently the new owners are slowly ascertaining what they have acquired and their future plans. Brown Forman has established Jack Daniels as a key brand with widespread availability; it would be conceivable that new ranges and distribution channels await their 3 new Scottish distilleries. Already they have signalled their intent by naming Rachel Barrie (formerly of Morrison Bowmore Distillers) as their master blender to help develop new ranges.

The current BenRiach range whilst supplemented annually a collection of limited single cask releases consists of peated and non-peated whiskies. The Heart of Speyside is the entry level No Age Statement release, whilst a cluster of age statements takes you from 10 years to a mighty 35-year-old. These are all without peat and as the name suggests full of classic Speyside characteristics. A selection of wood finishes is sometimes available including the recommended 12-year-old Sherry Wood. Then the peated range is as varied, with imaginative use of quarter casks and age statement varieties up to the 25-year-old Authenticus. There has also been the element of experimentation with a triple distilled whisky and a heavily peated malt all being produced at BenRiach. It’s annual capacity of 2.8 million litres does allow for some inventiveness and whether this continues with Brown Forman is one of many questions still to be answered in what promising to be a new, exciting future.